Key Biscayne

Calling Ultra ‘abhorrent,’ Key Biscayne residents decry a festival move to Virginia Key

Ultra Music Festival 2018 - Day 3

Scenes from the third - and last - day at the Ultra Music Festival Sunday, March 25, 2018, at Bayfront Park in Miami.
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Scenes from the third - and last - day at the Ultra Music Festival Sunday, March 25, 2018, at Bayfront Park in Miami.

With Miami’s Ultra Music Festival potentially moving to Virginia Key, Key Biscayne residents and leaders called an emergency meeting Monday night lambasting Miami officials and promising to mobilize against the effort.

“I am ready to call out our neighbors, the city of Miami, as bad neighbors,” said Vice Mayor Franklin Caplan. “I am pretty well fed up with the way the city of Miami behaves.”

Their biggest concerns: The festival will cause traffic, noise, environmental consequences and safety issues.

After Miami commissioners ousted the three-day electronic dance music event from Bayfront Park earlier this year because of noise, traffic and closures to the park, festival organizers and city officials said last week that they were negotiating a contract to house the event March 29-31 near Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key. The festival would be held both at the park next to the Miami Marine Stadium and Historic Virginia Key Beach Park.

A Miami City Commission vote to determine whether the festival will move to the island off the Rickenbacker Causeway — where the Miami International Boat Show is held — has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15.

According to a draft agreement between the city and Ultra obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request, Ultra could pay a minimum of $1.4 million to stage the festival on Virginia Key. The figure could increase depending on ticket sales. Starting in the third year of the agreement, the fee would increase by 3 percent annually.

The area around Arthur Lamb Road would be used for parking, and if that weren’t enough, Ultra would have to pay the full cost of finding additional parking elsewhere. The initial terms also require organizers to submit a traffic plan two months before the event and include a provision explicitly requiring Ultra to keep the area clean and undisturbed, particularly historically designated and environmentally sensitive areas.

The area lined with red shows the proposed parking site for Ultra Music Festival if the event is held on Virginia Key, according to a draft agreement between the city and the festival.

The license agreement has no term, meaning the deal would be in place indefinitely — but the city or Ultra would have the right to revoke the contract a year before the following festival. The city and Ultra would agree to review the status of the festival and contract terms in 2024.

Meanwhile, Key Biscayne residents and elected officials were seething Monday night at the emergency meeting. They called Ultra “abhorrent” and an “absolutely horrible disruptive event.” In recent years, condo residents living near Bayfront Park have vociferously complained to the city about the noise and disruption the music festival brings to their neighborhood.

The Key Biscayne audience also hurled barbs at the Miami City Commission.

“They have basically turned their back on everything and anything we’ve wanted to work with them on to help mitigate the impact,” Village Councilman Gary Gross said after the meeting.

Rosa de la Camara, who has lived in Key Biscayne for more than 50 years, said Key Biscayne has the “disfavor” of not being constituents of the Miami commissioners. But she agreed that Key Biscayne has to do something.

“I was so mortified about the fact that this abhorrent festival is coming to our neighborhood that I couldn’t not come,” she said, adding she hopes the village launches a strong opposition campaign.

The council agreed to hire an emergency crisis public relations firm to develop a strategy ahead of the Nov. 15 meeting and agreed to write letters to Miami, Miami-Dade and Ultra Music Festival organizers. They also said it is important to work on a transportation plan early, if the festival is approved despite concerns.

Monday night, Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez emphasized there is no finalized deal, and he put the Ultra agreement on the Nov. 15 Miami City Commission agenda as a placeholder in hopes they could have a finalized deal by then. He added that what happens inside Miami’s city limits should be determined by the residents and government of the city of Miami.

“We’re not picking a fight with anybody,” he said. “When we have something we can hang our hat on, we will happily engage Key Biscayne.”

Some, however, disagree and said the only way they found out about the potential move was by reading about it in the Herald.

“We only heard about it by seeing it in [the Miami Herald,]” said Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay. “We didn’t even get the courtesy of being told directly.”

The draft agreement also includes an exclusivity clause, which raises questions about a possible hiccup for Ultra’s plan. Rapture Electronic Music Festival is already planned to be held at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park during the same proposed Ultra weekend. A spokesman for Ultra told the Herald last week that Rapture may be moved.

Ultra would have access to the site for 35 days between March and April, for 18 days before the three-day festival and for 14 days afterward, according to the draft agreement. The sound level would not be allowed to exceed a maximum level of 110 decibels measured 60 feet away from the stage. According to academic research done by Purdue University, 110 decibels sounds like a car horn from about three yards away.

The proposal would allow Ultra to open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Read the whole agreement below: